By Jessica Isaacs
Boone, North Carolina was defeated in the fourth round of Outside Magazine’s Best Towns 2015 competition this weekend after Chattanooga, Tennessee maintained a slight lead in a highly competitive matchup.
Although we’re out of the running for the top spot, our town’s remarkable performance in online voting was nonetheless an impressive victory. While Boone won’t be the star of a feature story in Outside’s September issue, we’ve still made it into the magazine.
Outside’s editorial team in Santa Fe, New Mexico handpicked Boone as one of 60 towns across the U.S. to participate in the fifth annual Best Towns event. Towns were chosen for their “great access to trails and public lands, thriving restaurants and neighborhoods and, of course, a good beer scene.”
New this year was a wild card round that allowed early voting to select an additional four contenders.
Over the course of four five-day rounds of voting, we achieved some incredible numbers for a town our size in the competition’s bracket-style tournament.
HOW WE DID
Here’s a recap of our accomplishments:
In our first round matchup, May 4-8, we took on Ocala, Florida (pop. 57,486) and prevailed with 72.93 percent of the votes, earning 14,833 compared to Ocala’s 5,505.
Savannah, Georgia (pop. 142,772) pulled a slight lead over Boone in the midst of round two, May 9-13. Determined to advance to the sweet 16, fans of the High Country from all over the state pulled together and pushed us to an astonishing win. Not only did we defeat Savannah with 52.1 percent of the votes (13,104 to 12,049), we earned more votes that round than any of the remaining 32 participating towns — most of which were at least twice our size.
Chattanooga, Tennessee defeated the Raleigh-Durham area in the second round, too, making Boone the only North Carolina town left in the running.
Boone carried a strong lead over Athens, Georgia (pop. 120,266) in the third round, May 14-18, pulling out a win (14,475 to 11,366) that allowed us to advance to the top eight.
Vying for a spot in the final four against Chattanooga in round four, May 19-23, was undoubtedly our toughest challenge, but also our greatest accomplishment. Although we didn’t surpass Chattanooga in votes this round, this matchup pulled in more than 80,500 total votes.
More than nine times our size, Chattanooga was only able to keep a close lead over Boone. Chattanooga, which won the same competition in 2011, prevailed in a tight race with just 50.99 percent of the votes.
While we’re out of the running for “Best Town Ever,” there’s no denying that we have achieved great things in the past four weeks. Chattanooga won the last round with 41,093 — but by those numbers, less than 24 percent of its population (173,366) voted against Boone.
A massive grassroots social media campaign to reign in votes for the High Country allowed Boone to earn a total of 39,499 in the final round — that’s more than two votes per citizen, and it was all thanks to a phenomenal response from our community!
Had Chattanooga earned as many votes-per-resident as Boone, they could have earned more than 374,470 votes.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Fifth round voting (May 24-28) is now underway for remaining semifinalists. The top two will advance to the final round (May 29-June 4), and the ultimate winner will be crowned “Best Town Ever” in 2015 on June 5.
The “Best Town Ever” will be the star of a feature story in Outside’s September issue, but Boone will be highlighted in the magazine, too, as one of the top eight towns this year.
So, how did Boone make it so far in a tournament against much bigger cities? It’s simple, really.
As the area’s leading retailer of Toad & Co. merchandise — the official sponsor of this year’s competition — the Mast General Store was selected to lead Boone’s campaign for online votes. Weeks before the voting actually began, our friends at MGS got together with other businesses and community leaders to brainstorm and kick start an all-out social media campaign.
As the first round start date approached, folks all over town took to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using hashtags #BooneNC and #BestTowns2015, encouraging friends and neighbors everywhere to vote.
Local entrepreneurs and High Country residents showed up in great numbers to represent our town, and our state, in online voting. As the competition got tough, our community pride grew stronger.
In the face of petty criticism from our opponents in Chattanooga (including this vicious article from one of Tennessee’s biggest newspapers), Boone took the high road and led an all-positive campaign for votes. The online community was flooded with words of encouragement and reasons to love the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Full of heart, we were even inspired to vote for another small town, Port Angeles, Washington, in their own bracket. Another little place taking on a big city, Port Angeles residents voted for Boone, too, showing a united front for underdogs everywhere!
A UNITED FRONT
Boone residents and establishments shared one another’s posts on social media as the hours were counted down and, even as the end of voting (midnight on Saturday) approached, nothing but kindness kept us going.
In the end, we pulled off something we can all be proud of, even if we didn’t beat Chattanooga in votes.
Here at High Country Press, we extend our deepest gratitude to our friends and readers in Boone and across the state who showed unwavering support and lifted our community with votes and affirmation.
We are grateful for our readers, who kept up with our consistent coverage of the competition.
We are grateful for everyone who helped Boone advance to the top eight, pulling in more than 81,900 total votes in just four weeks.
We are grateful to our friends and neighbors who helped spread the word — Mast General Store, the Mast Farm Inn and Over Yonder, RaysWeather.com, Explore Boone, App Alumni and the entire Appalachian State community, Stick Boy Bread Company, Hospitality House, High Country 365, Go Blue Ridge, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Watauga Road Conditions and many, many more.
Even without the feature article, Boone will be highlighted in Outside in September and will receive national recognition as a great place to live, work and play. This accomplishment will surely encourage more people to move to or visit our town, which relies heavily on revenue from travel and tourism.
Thank you for reading, thank you for voting and thank you for being a part of our community!
(If you’re still feeling neighborly, Port Angeles made it to the top four and could take on Chattanooga in the finals. You can still vote for them here.)
Here are some of the great things you said about Boone, even as the deadline approached and after we lost to Chattanooga. Check us out on Twitter and Facebook for more of the positive comments about our community. We appreciate every single word!